Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Gandhi Model will not work in Iran

The Gandhi Model of peaceful, non-violent resistance worked in India and it worked for the civil rights movement in the United States. Unfortunately, I don't think it will not work in Iran. The Gandhi Model only works if the ruling government is made up of people who have some basis in morality and who place at least some value on human life. But dealing with the rulers of Iran and the Basij is like dealing with a crocodile or great white shark. Passive resistance is useless.

Oops, did I just equate the rulers of Iran and the Basij to animals? I guess so.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Reality Check for the Recording Industry

For several years now there have been stories in the news about the RIAA suing private individuals who engaged in music file sharing and downloading. Recently ASCAP tried to get into the act with the idea of charging royalties for ringtones and with their demands worded in such a way that it sounded like one would have to pay a royalty for whistling a tune.

What we are seeing are the dying gasps of an obsolete business model and I'd like to point out some realities that should be remembered by all involved.

Music has been a part of humanity for a very long time, thousands of years. The recording industry is a very recent phenomenon that has only existed for the last 100 years, ever since it became possible to record and play music on a machine. The invention of the phonograph made it possible for a business to spring up around the idea of selling pre-recorded music. This business model was viable as long as it was possible to control the means of production of the media. The end of this business model began with the introduction of tape cassettes, the first popular recording medium that made it easy for private individuals to copy music recordings for themselves and also to sell them. But cassettes still involved physical media and themselves cost money. There were also quality issues because a copy was never as good as the original, and successive copies rapidly became worse in quality. With the introduction of digital recording and the Internet, it became possible for private individuals to make copies without limit, with no loss of quality, and to transport copies anywhere in the world instantly, without physical media. This ability signaled the final end for the recording industry that sprang up 100 years ago.

Representatives of the recording industry loudly proclaim that the end of their business means the end of your music. They threaten that if nobody purchases their music, there will be no more good music and they would have you believe that the "recording industry" is music. This is, of course, a bald-faced lie. Representatives of the recording industry hope that people overlook the fact that their business is very young, only 100 years old, and they hope that people overlook the glaringly obviously fact that the greatest music produced by humankind was created before the recording industry even existed.

Music is art, not CDs. The music moguls who have made billions of dollars from selling the work of talented artists do not want to lose their cash cow. It has nothing to do with whether music will be created. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and all the rest did not create their music with the hopes of selling records, going "platinum", or any of that. They created music because they were inspired, music was in their heart, and they wanted to say something with their music. The recording industry promotes the idea that they are music when in fact they are simply merchants of copies of works created by talented artists.

Whether they want to recognize it or not, the music moguls have lost their cash cow. They have lost it irretrievably because technology has moved past the need to sell physical media whose production and distribution can be controlled. The game is over. The business model is obsolete and dead, and can never be revived. It's just sad and somewhat sickening to watch the recording industry press their law firms to come up with ever more outrageous attempts to rescue them from their sinking ship.

As we watch the death of the recording industry, bear in mind that the recording industry is not music, it is a particular way of marketing recorded music. Music is not going to go away. Keep a sense of perspective and don't lose sight of the fact that the recording industry is made up of merchants no different than the fish merchant down the street. The fish merchant did not create the fish, he just sells the fish. The same is true of the recording industry merchants. Don't be fooled by the hyped threats.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Flickr Explore

Finally got a couple of photos into Explore! again on Flickr. Yay!

Click the photos to see much larger versions

Pretty Green Jumping Spider - DSCF4404c

Tricksy Scorpion - DSCF4622c

Saturday, May 23, 2009

It Appears We've Finally Found the Evolutionary Missing Link

Scientists have discovered an exquisitely preserved ancient primate fossil that they believe forms a crucial "missing link" between our own evolutionary branch of life and the rest of the animal kingdom.

The 47 million year old primate – named Ida – has been hailed as the fossil equivalent of a "Rosetta Stone" for understanding the critical early stages of primate evolution.

The top-level international research team, who have studied her in secret for the past two years, believe she is the most complete and best preserved primate fossil ever uncovered. The skeleton is 95% complete and thanks to the unique location where she died, it is possible to see individual hairs covering her body and even the make-up of her final meal – a last vegetarian snack.

"This little creature is going to show us our connection with the rest of all the mammals; with cows and sheep, and elephants and anteaters," said Sir David Attenborough who is narrating a BBC documentary on the find. "The more you look at Ida, the more you can see, as it were, the primate in embryo."

"This will be the one pictured in the textbooks for the next hundred years," said Dr Jørn Hurum, the palaeontologist from Oslo University's Natural History Museum who assembled the scientific team to study the fossil. "It tells a part of our evolution that's been hidden so far. It's been hidden because the only [other] specimens are so incomplete and so broken there's nothing almost to study." The fossil has been formally named Darwinius masillae in honour of Darwin's 200th birthday year.

It has been shipped across the Atlantic for an unveiling ceremony hosted by the mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg today. There is even talk of Ida being the first non-living thing to feature on the front cover of People magazine.

See more here.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

STS-125 Atlantis Solar Transit (200905120002HQ)

This photo is too cool not to post.

In this tightly cropped image, the NASA space shuttle Atlantis is seen in silhouette during solar transit, Tuesday, May 12, 2009, from Florida. This image was made before Atlantis and the crew of STS-125 had grappled the Hubble Space Telescope. Photo Credit: (NASA/Thierry Legault)

Thierry made this image using a solar-filtered Takahashi 5-inch refracting telescope and a Canon 5D Mark II digital camera. Photo Credit: (NASA/Thierry Legault)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

We Grow 'Em Big in Central America

I just had to post this photo taken in Costa Rica. I hope you enjoy it.

Lagarteada
Originally uploaded on Flickr by Néstor Baltodano

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Scorpions Anyone?

I thought I'd post a video made from several clips I shot of scorpions that one occasionally encounters here where I live.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Up to 2 Billion Could Become Infected with Swine Flu

Up to 2 billion people could get the swine flu (AH1N1).

Pandemics typically last about two years and infect about one-third of the world's population.

If the current epidemic becomes a pandemic and lasts for two years, it could infect 2 billion people, if the pandemic follows the patterns of past pandemics, says the WHO.

See the AP story here.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Torturers’ Manifesto

To read the four newly released memos on prisoner interrogation written by George W. Bush’s Justice Department is to take a journey into depravity.

Their language is the precise bureaucratese favored by dungeon masters throughout history. They detail how to fashion a collar for slamming a prisoner against a wall, exactly how many days he can be kept without sleep (11), and what, specifically, he should be told before being locked in a box with an insect - all to stop just short of having a jury decide that these acts violate the laws against torture and abusive treatment of prisoners.

In one of the more nauseating passages, Jay Bybee, then an assistant attorney general and now a federal judge, wrote admiringly about a contraption for waterboarding that would lurch a prisoner upright if he stopped breathing while water was poured over his face. He praised the Central Intelligence Agency for having doctors ready to perform an emergency tracheotomy if necessary.

These memos are not an honest attempt to set the legal limits on interrogations, which was the authors’ statutory obligation. They were written to provide legal immunity for acts that are clearly illegal, immoral and a violation of this country’s most basic values.

It sounds like the plot of a mob film, except the lawyers asking how much their clients can get away with are from the C.I.A. and the lawyers coaching them on how to commit the abuses are from the Justice Department. And it all played out with the blessing of the defense secretary, the attorney general, the intelligence director and, most likely, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

The Americans Civil Liberties Union deserves credit for suing for the memos’ release. And President Obama deserves credit for overruling his own C.I.A. director and ordering that the memos be made public. It is hard to think of another case in which documents stamped “Top Secret” were released with hardly any deletions.

But this cannot be the end of the scrutiny for these and other decisions by the Bush administration.

Until Americans and their leaders fully understand the rules the Bush administration concocted to justify such abuses - and who set the rules and who approved them - there is no hope of fixing a profoundly broken system of justice and ensuring that that these acts are never repeated.

The abuses and the dangers do not end with the torture memos. Americans still know far too little about President Bush’s decision to illegally eavesdrop on Americans - a program that has since been given legal cover by the Congress.

Last week, The Times reported that the nation’s intelligence agencies have been collecting private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans on a scale that went beyond the broad limits established in legislation last year. The article quoted the Justice Department as saying there had been problems in the surveillance program that had been resolved. But Justice did not say what those problems were or what the resolution was.

That is the heart of the matter: nobody really knows what any of the rules were. Mr. Bush never offered the slightest explanation of what he found lacking in the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act when he decided to ignore the law after 9/11 and ordered the warrantless wiretapping of Americans’ overseas calls and e-mail. He said he was president and could do what he wanted.

The Bush administration also never explained how it interpreted laws that were later passed to expand the government’s powers to eavesdrop. And the Obama administration argued in a recent court filing that everything associated with electronic eavesdropping, including what is allowed and what is not, is a state secret.

We do not think Mr. Obama will violate Americans’ rights as Mr. Bush did. But if Americans do not know the rules, they cannot judge whether this government or any one that follows is abiding by the rules.

In the case of detainee abuse, Mr. Obama assured C.I.A. operatives that they would not be prosecuted for actions that their superiors told them were legal. We have never been comfortable with the “only following orders” excuse, especially because Americans still do not know what was actually done or who was giving the orders.

After all, as far as Mr. Bush’s lawyers were concerned, it was not really torture unless it involved breaking bones, burning flesh or pulling teeth. That, Mr. Bybee kept noting, was what the Libyan secret police did to one prisoner. The standard for American behavior should be a lot higher than that of the Libyan secret police.

At least Mr. Obama is not following Mr. Bush’s example of showy trials for the small fry - like Lynndie England of Abu Ghraib notoriety. But he has an obligation to pursue what is clear evidence of a government policy sanctioning the torture and abuse of prisoners - in violation of international law and the Constitution.

That investigation should start with the lawyers who wrote these sickening memos, including John Yoo, who now teaches law in California; Steven Bradbury, who was job-hunting when we last heard; and Mr. Bybee, who holds the lifetime seat on the federal appeals court that Mr. Bush rewarded him with.

These memos make it clear that Mr. Bybee is unfit for a job that requires legal judgment and a respect for the Constitution. Congress should impeach him. And if the administration will not conduct a thorough investigation of these issues, then Congress has a constitutional duty to hold the executive branch accountable. If that means putting Donald Rumsfeld and Alberto Gonzales on the stand, even Dick Cheney, we are sure Americans can handle it.

After eight years without transparency or accountability, Mr. Obama promised the American people both. His decision to release these memos was another sign of his commitment to transparency. We are waiting to see an equal commitment to accountability.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/19/opinion/19sun1.html?th&emc=th

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

WHO Escalates to Phase 5 on Swine Flu Pandemic

The Geneva-based World Health Organization on Wednesday raised its alert level for the fast-spreading swine flu to its next-to-highest notch, signaling a global pandemic could be imminent.

The move came after the virus spread to at least 10 U.S. states from coast to coast and swept deeper into Europe.

"It really is all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic," said WHO Director General Margaret Chan. "We do not have all the answers right now but we will get them."

In the United States, President Barack Obama mourned the first U.S. death, a Mexican toddler who had traveled with his family to Texas. Total American cases surged to nearly 100, and Obama said wider school closings might be necessary.

In Mexico, where the flu is believed to have originated, officials said Wednesday the disease is now confirmed or suspected in 159 deaths, and nearly 2,500 illnesses.

The WHO said the phase 5 alert means there is sustained human to human spread in at least two countries. It also signals that efforts to produce a vaccine will be ramped up.

Update from the WHO

29 April 2009 -- The situation continues to evolve rapidly. As of 18:00 GMT, 29 April 2009, nine countries have officially reported 148 cases of swine influenza A/H1N1 infection. The United States Government has reported 91 laboratory confirmed human cases, with one death. Mexico has reported 26 confirmed human cases of infection including seven deaths.

The following countries have reported laboratory confirmed cases with no deaths - Austria (1), Canada (13), Germany (3), Israel (2), New Zealand (3), Spain (4) and the United Kingdom (5).

Further information on the situation will be available on the WHO website on a regular basis.

WHO advises no restriction of regular travel or closure of borders. It is considered prudent for people who are ill to delay international travel and for people developing symptoms following international travel to seek medical attention, in line with guidance from national authorities.

There is also no risk of infection from this virus from consumption of well-cooked pork and pork products. Individuals are advised to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water on a regular basis and should seek medical attention if they develop any symptoms of influenza-like illness.

Epidemic Not Slowing Down

WHO says the swine flu epidemic shows no signs of slowing down.

The epidemic remains at Phase 4 but WHO is getting closer to declaring a Phase 5 pandemic.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090429/ap_on_he_me/swine_flu_world

Monday, April 27, 2009

WHO Moves from Pandemic Phase 3 to Phase 4 on Swine Flu

The WHO has just raised the pandemic phase on the Swine Flu epidemic from Phase 3 to Phase 4. There are six phases or stages, followed by a post peak phase.

The WHO pandemic phase definitions are as follows:

In nature, influenza viruses circulate continuously among animals, especially birds. Even though such viruses might theoretically develop into pandemic viruses, in Phase 1 no viruses circulating among animals have been reported to cause infections in humans.

In Phase 2 an animal influenza virus circulating among domesticated or wild animals is known to have caused infection in humans, and is therefore considered a potential pandemic threat.

In Phase 3, an animal or human-animal influenza reassortant virus has caused sporadic cases or small clusters of disease in people, but has not resulted in human-to-human transmission sufficient to sustain community-level outbreaks. Limited human-to-human transmission may occur under some circumstances, for example, when there is close contact between an infected person and an unprotected caregiver. However, limited transmission under such restricted circumstances does not indicate that the virus has gained the level of transmissibility among humans necessary to cause a pandemic.

Phase 4 is characterized by verified human-to-human transmission of an animal or human-animal influenza reassortant virus able to cause “community-level outbreaks.” The ability to cause sustained disease outbreaks in a community marks a significant upwards shift in the risk for a pandemic. Any country that suspects or has verified such an event should urgently consult with WHO so that the situation can be jointly assessed and a decision made by the affected country if implementation of a rapid pandemic containment operation is warranted. Phase 4 indicates a significant increase in risk of a pandemic but does not necessarily mean that a pandemic is a forgone conclusion.

Phase 5 is characterized by human-to-human spread of the virus into at least two countries in one WHO region. While most countries will not be affected at this stage, the declaration of Phase 5 is a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalize the organization, communication, and implementation of the planned mitigation measures is short.

Phase 6, the pandemic phase, is characterized by community level outbreaks in at least one other country in a different WHO region in addition to the criteria defined in Phase 5. Designation of this phase will indicate that a global pandemic is under way.

During the post-peak period, pandemic disease levels in most countries with adequate surveillance will have dropped below peak observed levels. The post-peak period signifies that pandemic activity appears to be decreasing; however, it is uncertain if additional waves will occur and countries will need to be prepared for a second wave.

Previous pandemics have been characterized by waves of activity spread over months. Once the level of disease activity drops, a critical communications task will be to balance this information with the possibility of another wave. Pandemic waves can be separated by months and an immediate “at-ease” signal may be premature.

In the post-pandemic period, influenza disease activity will have returned to levels normally seen for seasonal influenza. It is expected that the pandemic virus will behave as a seasonal influenza A virus. At this stage, it is important to maintain surveillance and update pandemic preparedness and response plans accordingly. An intensive phase of recovery and evaluation may be required.

Three Possible Cases of Swine Flu in Guatemala

The Ministry of Health announced three possible cases of swine flu in Guatemala.

Guatemalans are urged not to travel to Mexico where there are 103 confirmed deaths so far. The true number might be 147.

Avoid contact with people, avoid crowds, wash your hands often, don't touch your face, especially eyes, with unwashed hands.

See more detail and updates here:

http://maya-paradise.blogspot.com/

Swine Flu Tracking Maps

It's not clear how often these maps will be updated. So far they are being well maintained, but no promises:

Tracking Map

Another Tracking Map

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Salticidae vs. Odonate

Posted a new series of photos in Flickr showing a jumping spider killing a damselfly.

Jumping Spider Killing Damselfly - DSCF4410

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Americans or Cuban-Americans?

Some articles about President Obama's relaxed restriction on travel to Cuba say "Cuban-Americans", others say "Americans", others refer to both in the same article. Which is it?

And if it's Cuban-Americans only, I have another question: since when can the government discriminate between the rights of certain Americans versus other Americans? An American citizen is an American citizen, and it's illegal to discriminate between groups, whether along ethnic lines, race, color, religion, or any other parameter.

Why is this not mentioned in the news?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

U.S. Now Deporting Citizens

Pedro Guzman has been an American citizen all his life. Yet in 2007, the 31-year-old Los Angeles native — in jail for a misdemeanor, mentally ill and never able to read or write — signed a waiver agreeing to leave the country without a hearing and was deported to Mexico as an illegal immigrant.

"The more the system becomes confused, the more U.S. citizens will be wrongfully detained and wrongfully removed," said Bruce Einhorn, a retired immigration judge who now teaches at Pepperdine Law School. "They are the symptom of a larger problem in the detention system. ... Nothing could be more regrettable than the removal of our fellow citizens."

It's impossible to know exactly how many citizens have been detained or deported because nobody keeps track. Kara Hartzler, an attorney at the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project in Arizona, testified at a U.S. House hearing last year that her group alone sees 40 to 50 jailings a month of people with potentially valid claims to citizenship.

"These cases are surprisingly, painfully common," she said.

Read the full AP story here.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The U.S. is Going to Miss the Biggest Opportunity of the 21st Century

Electric vehicles are the wave of the future. Bio-diesel (algae, bacteria), and electric, and combinations of the two are where the future lies. But the U.S. is going to blow it.

For most of the 20th century, the U.S. was the world leader in car manufacturing. This is no longer the case and it looks like the mammoth dinosaurs that are called "Detroit" are so hidebound as to be unable to cope with the coming changes. Now it's looking like the whole thing is going to go bankrupt in the U.S.

But cars are not dead. In fact, there will be more car sales in the 21st century than in the 20th century as the billion people in China, and the billion people in India reach a level of income that enables them to have cars. The U.S. car industry could be there, ready for the market, but it won't be.

In order to change this, just about everything from the past must be dropped and new procedures put in place, from corporate governance down to the lowest position in the company. Design cycles must be vastly accelerated. It's no longer possible to spend five years taking a car from concept to production. In five years, all of the technology changes, and any product that passes through the standard Detroit design cycle will be obsolete before it hits the streets. Consider the Chevy Volt. How long have we been hearing about it? Years. And it's still years from introduction. That's ridiculous.

Will it get fixed? I doubt it. But there's a tremendous opportunity sitting there. The U.S. could again become the leading car maker in the world with the latest technology and best value. But I fear it will not happen. By the time things change in the U.S., if they change, market leadership will have already moved to Asia where the problem is understood and companies move much more quickly to adapt to technology and changing markets.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/02/business/global/02electric.html?th&emc=th

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Declassified US State Dept Docs, US Knew of Abuses by Guatemalan Leaders it Supported

The U.S. government knew that top Guatemalan officials it supported with arms and cash were behind the disappearance of thousands of people during a 36-year civil war, declassified documents obtained by a U.S. research institute show.

The National Security Archive, a Washington D.C.-based institute that requests and publishes declassified government documents, obtained diplomatic and intelligence reports from the U.S. State Department under the Freedom of Information Act and posted them on its Web site on Wednesday.

"Government security services have employed assassination to eliminate persons suspected of involvement with the guerrillas or who are otherwise left-wing in orientation," one 1984 State Department report said.

State Department spokesman Fred Lash said he was unaware of the declassified documents and could not immediately comment.

Guatemala's U.S.-backed army battled leftist guerrillas in a 1960-1996 civil war that left more than 200,000 people dead or missing. Most were Mayan Indians.

"The government is obviously rounding up people connected with the extreme left-wing labor movement for interrogation," then-U.S. Ambassador Frederic Chapin said in a 1984 cable.

Chapin also said he was optimistic that missing union activist Fernando Garcia was alive and would be released. But Garcia has never been found, and two police officers were arrested in his case last week based on information found in Guatemalan police documents discovered in 2005.

The U.S. and local police files show that disappearances and executions were part of a deliberate strategy to crush leftist rebels, said Jesse Franzblau, a researcher at the Archive.

See the rest of the AP story here

Note: The link to the National Security Archive posted on the AP story above is incorrect. The correct link is below:

Read more at the George Washington University National Security Archive

Monday, March 16, 2009

World faces irreversible climate change, researchers warn

The world is facing an increasing risk of "irreversible" climate shifts because worst-case scenarios warned of two years ago are being realized, an international panel of scientists has warned.

Temperatures, sea levels, acid levels in oceans and ice sheets were already moving "beyond the patterns of natural variability within which our society and economy have developed and thrived," scientists said in a report released Thursday.

The findings came at the end of a three-day conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, where nearly 2,000 researchers gathered to discuss climate change.

See the rest of the story here.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Happy 20th Anniversary to the World Wide Web

Twenty years ago today, Tim Berners-Lee, of the CERN particle physics laboratory in Geneva, wrote a paper describing what quickly became the World Wide Web.
Back in 1989, the Web was just an idea, but it was a world-changing idea and one of the most important ideas of the 20th century.

At that time, the first browser and the first web server had yet to be created but those things came quickly. Back then, we got our news from newspapers and on TV at 6 PM. We did our research and study in libraries. We met with our friends in church or at a bar. We received and paid bills through the mail. We used to go to the bank to deposit checks and take care of business. We shopped for clothing by driving to stores and touching the products. We learned about new products through print ads, billboards, and television. We learned about different cultures and met people in distant lands by getting on an airplane and going there. We got our music by buying CDs or cassettes. The idea of an individual being able to publish his writings or photos and have them instantly visible to millions of people was inconceivable.

By 1995, things were well underway. At that time the first major search engine was created, called Alta Vista. Does anyone besides me remember Alta Vista? There was no Yahoo, no Google, no Hotmail, no online music, no multiplayer games. Web-based email was yet to be invented (by Hotmail, later bought by Microsoft). There was no YouTube because there was no digital video yet. Compressed audio (MP3) had just been developed by the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany. The first MP3 player for computers (WinAmp) came in 1998. The first portable MP3 player came in 1999.

Look at what has happened in the last 10 to 14 years. The whole world has changed for anyone who has access to the Internet.

What will the next 20 years bring?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Iran Shows its True Colors

There has not been much news coverage of the plight of the Baha'is in Iran but it did get some coverage in a recent New York Times blog.

The leaders of Iran like to portray themselves as the right people to lead Iran into the future. A future of what? Gestapo-like oppression? Wars? Kangaroo courts convicting people of phony crimes against the state and sentencing them to death? Is that the future that the leaders of Iran want for their country? Is that what the Iranian people want from their leaders?

The leaders of Iran like to badmouth the U.S., and while the behavior of the U.S. has been less than exemplary for quite a few years, the Iranian government is really showing us what they are about and what sort of people they really are by their oppression of a peaceful religious group called the Baha'i.

What's next? Concentration camps?

Why is the West putting up with this? Is it because the West desperately needs Iran's oil? Well now with the worldwide economic crisis, the demand for oil has dropped steeply. Oil reserves and storage facilities in the United States are completely full and brimming over, and this condition is predicted to last for at least a couple of years and more likely longer. It's my opinion that now would be a good time for the West to put its foot down because, for the time being, Iran has lost its only bargaining chip: oil. We don't need it so we don't have to put up with the Iranian regime's behavior. Do we?

Read the NY Times blog entry here.

For those personally worrying about foreclosure, Please read this post

This is a cross-post from a forum, reposted here with the author's permission. I thought it might be of value to some of my readers:
A post in another forum served as a reminder of the economic fragility that many solidly middle class families are facing these days. My day job is in the affordable housing non-profit field, and my agency is among many on the front lines in saving homes and saving families from foreclosure.

So I will repeat what I said in the other thread:

For anyone who is getting behind in their mortgages and worrying about foreclosure, please get help from a non-profit housing organization sooner rather than later. There are new programs and new funds available to help, and banks are much more agreeable to loan modifications and deferrals than they were just a little while ago.

When you're starting to get behind get some help - call the local HUD-certified housing counselling agency. A list can be found here, or call the HOPE hotline at 888-985=HOPE (4673).

There are a lot of pseudo counsellors and "debt relief specialists" out there preying upon people who are financially and mentally exhausted by economic turmoil. Stay away from them and get help from the non-profits who are the front line of defense in the current housing troubles. My agency has rescued dozens from foreclosure and saved more than 70 rental units that were abandoned by their owners, during the past year alone. There are many more like us.

Please get the name of the people near you from the HOPE line or website, and please be patient with them, they're among the most overwhelmed workers in our country right now.

If anyone has questions on the availability of resources or anything else to do with these housing rescue programs please feel free to PM me. I will, of course, keep any information private.


Don't go it alone - individual cases may differ tremendously, but many people can actually be helped if they get help early and find people who can intervene with lenders.

Andy

This is a Switch, and a Good One

The U.S. Commerce Department recently reported that the savings rate in the U.S. has risen to its highest level in 14 years. This is a sea change, possibly with big consequences, since a large part of the global economy has long depended on uncontrollable consumption of Americans.

The loss in value of homes and the collapse of investments and retirement plans has caused a dramatic change in U.S. consumer behavior and the consequences are being felt from Taipei to Berlin. This last January, Americans in the United States saved 5 percent of their income, the highest percentage since 1995. As recently as April of last year, the savings rate was zero. If the savings rate of 5 percent per year continues, then spending by Americans will drop by $545 billion. Many analysts predict that the savings rate will continue to rise. Some believe it will return to the 9 percent level that was seen in 1980.

Consumer spending in the U.S. has undergone a "gigantic" drop according to Rebeca Grynspan, director of the Latin American and Caribbean Program of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The World Bank says that for the first time in 25 years, worldwide economic activity has dropped. It fell by 2.1 percent, mainly due to decreased consumption by the United States.

Carlo Cottarelli, head of the fiscal affairs department of the IMF believes that "it is necessary that consumers put their accounts in order" in the United States. For years they lived beyond their means, thanks to abundant credit, whose ultimate origin was Asian, which were happy to extend credit to the United States. They got into debt to buy more powerful cars, bigger houses, travel to the Caribbean, relying on "incredible" stock market gains and real estate capital gains, said Barry Bosworth, an expert at Brookings Institution. The fall of these assets has now destroyed $8 trillion, leaving the poorest families struggling to pay debts.

"I do not expect a return to the mentality of crazy spending in the U.S. in the medium term," said Gary Hufbauer, an expert of the Institute for International Economics. Eswar Prasad, a professor at Cornell University, said that the export-based economies "will be forced to think about rebalancing their growth and generating domestic demand in order to end the crisis." That's just what they are doing in China and Germany, they are employing fiscal stimulus packages. Asian governments have announced a fiscal expansion of nearly $700 billion, comparable to the U.S..

In the United States, the sudden restraint causes immediate pain, however, it is beneficial in the long term by ending behaviors that were unsustainable.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Future U.S. Growth in Danger?

As the debate over immigrants goes on, we are losing sight of one important fact: The U.S. is no longer the only land of opportunity. If we don't want the immigrants who fueled our innovation and economic growth, they now have options elsewhere. Immigrants are returning home in greater numbers. And new research shows they are returning to enjoy a better quality of life, better career prospects, and the comfort of being close to family and friends.

Research indicates that a crisis was brewing because of the ever-growing immigration backlog. At the end of 2006, more than 1 million skilled professionals (engineers, scientists, doctors, researchers) and their families were in line for a yearly allotment of only 120,000 permanent resident visas. The wait time for some people ran longer than 10 years. In the meantime, these workers are trapped in "immigration limbo." If they change jobs or even take a promotion, they risk being pushed to the back of the waiting line. It was predicted that skilled foreign workers would increasingly get fed up and return to countries like India and China where the economies are booming, and it's now happening.

Contrary to the anti-immigration noises that came from the previous president's administration, immigrants are critical to the United States' long-term economic health. Despite the fact that they constitute only 12% of the U.S. population, immigrants have started 52% of Silicon Valley's technology companies and contributed more than 25% of our global patents. They make up 24% of the U.S. science and engineering workforce holding bachelor degrees and 47% of science and engineering workers who have PhDs. Imagine that -- 47% of the PhDs in science and engineering in the U.S. are immigrants. Immigrants founded or co-founded firms that you've heard of such as Google, Intel, eBay, and Yahoo!.

No government agency tracks the numbers on immigrants who gave up or returned but human resources directors in India and China say that what was a trickle of returnees a decade ago had become a flood. Job applications from the U.S. have increased tenfold over the last few years. And it's not just new immigrants who are returning. 30% are immigrants who have permanent residency or are U.S. citizens.

Besides the visa problems and now the economic crisis, returnees are saying that their reasons for returning include better opportunities back home, better conditions for entrepreneurs and for launching businesses, and better family values in places like India and China.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Is Your Private Personal or Business Information Being Sold on eBay?

Forensic and accounting and investigation company, Kessler, recently did a study of a large number of hard drives purchased randomly on eBay. The result? They were able to recover personal information, photos, and lots more from 40 percent of the drives.

Read about it here.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Why is this Hardly Mentioned in the News ???


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Google / Feedburner Mess, Please Update Your RSS Readers

As you probably know, Google bought Feedburner back in 2007. Recently Google "offered" to move my Feedburner account and feeds to the new Google / Feedburner. Since eventually everyone will have to move or their RSS feeds will stop working it seemed like a good idea. I pushed the button and all appeared to go smoothly and automatic. But it didn't. It broke all of my blog feeds, and since I maintain nine different blogs, it's a significant problem. Some feeds stopped updating, some began pointing to the wrong things, feeding comments out instead of posts, and other nonsense. It's a mess that I'm still cleaning up.

The Maya Paradise blog is now fixed, I think. The feed buttons on the Maya Paradise News Blog are updated and if you are a subscriber, please re-subscribe to the new feed before Google shuts down the previous feed system entirely on March 16th.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Coolest Website Ever

Check out Academic Earth. http://www.academicearth.org/

I've been wishing for this for years. Not everyone with a "Walkman" is listening to music. Some of us listen to lectures. Now it's even better. Complete course lectures from some of the best schools, Yale, Stanford, MIT, in high quality video. Biology, physics, engineering, law, history, economics, medicine, you name it. And the collection is constantly growing.

Speaking of Maya Paradise

As mentioned in the previous post, lots of changes and improvements have been made to the web site. One change is the creation of a unified database system containing detailed information on every business in the area.

From that database is generated several directory pages:

A business index:
http://www.mayaparadise.com/bizindex.asp

A marina index:
http://www.mayaparadise.com/marinas.asp

A hotel index:
http://www.mayaparadise.com/hotels.asp

A telephone directory:
http://www.mayaparadise.com/phones.asp

All the old, out-of-date directories are discarded and replaced by the new system that is easy to maintain since only one copy of the data needs to be kept current and it can be done by a person with no web design skills.

Stay tuned because a lot more is coming soon.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Quiet Over Here

Fishermen in their Dugout Canoe on Rio Dulce - DSCF2447


This blog has been kind of quiet recently because I've been working on the Maya Paradise web site. The whole site is getting modernized and improved. There's lots of interesting information there.

If you are curious about it, you can find it here:

http://www.mayaparadise.com


There is also an associated blog that's connected to the site here:

http://maya-paradise.blogspot.com

And a bulletin board:

http://www.mayaparadise.com/bbs.asp

DSCF2518

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Tiny Jumping Spider

Living in the tropics, there are wonderful photo opportunities ranging from landscapes down to the microscopic. Here's a shot of a jumping spider, Salticidae

Tiny Jumping Spider - DSCF4146c

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Cheney says no one saw financial crisis coming??

Really? I guess Mr. Cheney has not been reading my blog and thousands of others. How come we all knew and they didn't? Stupidity? I doubt it. Cheney is a very smart guy. Intentional? What other explanation is there?

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090108/ap_on_go_pr_wh/cheney_interview


Cheney said that "nobody anywhere was smart enough to figure it out." Is that so? I guess I should consider that compliment but I don't. Anyone with a knowledge of history and economics could see it coming more than 10 years ago. You can't borrow and borrow (in other words, print fiat money) without limit without it coming back and biting you. The same is true for countries as it is for individuals.

China Losing Taste for U.S. Debt

I like being right but sometimes I wish I wasn't. Last March I wrote a couple of posts about what I foresaw for the U.S. economy. Now another piece of the puzzle that I discussed is coming to pass:

China Losing Its Taste for U.S. Debt
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/08/business/worldbusiness/08yuan.html?th&emc=th

Here's the post I wrote back in March 2008

Slow Motion Train Wreck
http://shuttersparks.blogspot.com/2008/03/slow-motion-train-wreck.html